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RECONCILIATION

SERMON PRESENTED ON 12-06-14

 

       We are all familiar with the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who focused his ministry on racial and cultural reconciliation and lost his life while battling for the principles that he believed in and sought to promote. While Dr King did experience a measure of success in accomplishing the goals that he and his supporters worked so hard to attain, his goal of accomplishing reconciliation between the races still has a ways to go.  

       There is another man who some two thousand years ago also focused His ministry on reconciliation and, like Dr. King, lost His life battling for the principles that He believed in and sought to promote.  However, unlike Dr. King who died and remains buried, this man was raised from the dead and through His death and resurrection was able to fully accomplish the reconciliation that was the purpose and focus of His ministry.

       When we think of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we generally think in terms of Jesus having died for our sins and thus providing a way for us to escape spiritual death and obtain eternal life.  And that is certainly true.  Without the death and resurrection of Christ we would have no hope for life beyond physical death.  Paul made this clear in His letter to the Corinthian Christians.

       1 Corinthians 15:19: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

       The death and resurrection of Christ provide us with eternal life and it does so through the dynamic of reconciliation. It is this dynamic that I want to focus on today.   I want to discuss what reconciliation means, not only in terms of our eternal future with God, but also what it means relative to our present relationship with God and our relationship with one another. 

       In Daniel the ninth chapter, we have the seventy weeks prophecy were Daniel is given understanding as to what the mission of Christ would be.

       Daniel 9:24: Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy (KJV).

       Now I could give a sermon on any one of the goals cited in the seventy weeks prophecy.  Today we will focus on the goal of reconciliation for iniquity.  The Hebrew word translated into the English word reconciliation means to expiate an offense, to obtain forgiveness, to free someone from a charge.  Our sin separates us from God and the death of Christ removes that separation and therefore reconciles us to God.  Paul made this very plain in his letter to the Roman Christians.

       Romans 5:8-11: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

       The Greek word translated into the English word reconciliation is defined as restoration to favor or to bring back to a state of harmony.  When we place faith in the sacrifice of Christ, we are restored to favor with God and brought back to a state of harmony with our creator.  That harmony once existed in the Garden of Eden but was lost due to sin.  To have reconciliation with God is to have harmony restored.  Reconciliation is to be in harmony with God.  What does it mean to be in harmony with God?

       Symphony Illustration:  A symphony orchestra is made up of many different instruments all having their own unique characteristics.  You have string instruments which make sounds by running a bow across strings that are adjusted to different tensions. When these strings are pressed at different locations on the neck of the instrument you get different sounds.  You have brass instruments with valves and slides that adjust the flow of air going through resulting in different sounds.  You have percussion instruments that produce different sounds based on their particular construction and usage. 

       Then you have the musicians who play these instruments.  They bring their individual talents to these instruments and provide the expertise to insure that these instruments are played correctly and in accordance with the requirements of the musical compositions that are being played.

       Then you have the conductor who coordinates everything and insures that all the musicians are in sink with the dynamics of the composition being played.

       The result of all this is harmony.  The result is a pleasing sound to the audience who hears the music.  Even though there are a variety of different instruments involved and there are a variety of different skill levels and personalities involved in making the music, the end result is harmony.  There is harmony because, even though there are different instruments and personalities involved, there is one fundamental requirement that is being fulfilled by each musician.  Each musician is reading the music in the same way and applying what he is reading to his instrument in the same way. Each musician is on the same page.

       Each musician is reading time signatures the same way and when the time signature calls for four beats to the measure they are giving whole notes four beats, half notes two beats and quarter notes one beat.  Each musician is reading the dynamic markings the same way.  When the sheet music calls for a crescendo the musicians play louder and when the music calls for a diminuendo, the musicians play softer.   

       By each musician reading the music in the same way and applying what he is reading to his instrument in the same way, the end result is harmony.  This gives true meaning to the saying being on same page. 

       Being reconciled to God puts us on the same page with God so to speak.  It places us in harmony with God because of one fundamental requirement.  That requirement is our acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.  Because of that sacrifice we are made righteous before God and therefore are returned to a harmonious relationship with God.  Regardless of our social, cultural, or personal differences, we stand before God equal in righteousness not because of what we have done but because of what Christ has done.  Being reconciled to God produces a father and son relationship that results in spiritual harmony. 

       Galatians 3:22-29: But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

       Paul said there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.  Paul is speaking spiritually here as he so often does relative to our relationship with God.  Paul is saying that your physical status here on this earth is not what matters anymore. What color we are, what nationality we are, even what sex we are is not important. What matters is our spiritual status before God and that spiritual status is one of righteousness because of what Christ has done. 

       Paul also says something else rather interesting.  He said that now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Law.  What is Paul saying here?  We know that to be reconciled to God is to stand righteous before God not because of our righteousness but because of the perfect righteousness of Christ being credited to us.  Does that mean we no longer have to be concerned about being righteous?  Is that what Paul means when he says that we are no longer under supervision of the law?  Let Paul answers that question.

       Romans 6:15-18: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey__whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

       Being reconciled to God by having the righteousness of Christ applied to us places us into the status of already having eternal life. Even though our physical body will die, it really doesn’t really matter because our citizenship has already been transferred to heaven as Paul explained in his letter to the Philippian church.  Having been restored to a harmonious relationship with God results in us serving a new master.  It results in us coming under new management, under a whole new system and supervision. It results in us being trained by a new coach with a totally different game plan than what we were living under.

       Football Illustration: Let’s say you are a football player on a college football team and the coach of the team is a kind of old fashion sort of guy.  He believes that running the football is the best way to play the game and so he recruits the fastest and most athletic running backs he can find and brings on board the strongest, heaviest and agile linemen he can find in order to open up big gaping holes for his swift running backs.     

       The quarterback on the team, while having a good arm for passing the ball, seldom gets the opportunity to show what he can do because all that the coach wants to do is run the ball and so the quarterback spends most of his time handing off the ball to running backs.  On the defensive side of the ball, many of the same players that play offense also play defense because that’s the way it was done when the coach was an active player and what was good enough fifty years ago should be good enough today.

       Well, after the team goes 0 and 14 each of its first two seasons playing under this coach, the athletic director of the college decides to fire the coach and bring someone aboard with a little more modern approach to the game of football.  So he hires a guy who played for the Green Bay Packers during their 1996 super bowl season.  This coach comes in and totally chances the system.  While he still utilizes the talents of the running backs and the big offensive line, he also introduces a passing game and develops the throwing talents of his quarterback.  He puts a lot more focus on developing defensive players and places a great deal more emphasis on discipline and preparedness than what the former coach did.

       Now you being a player on this team would be experiencing a whole new approach to the game. The old system is out and the new system is in.  The old ways of doing things are out and a new way of doing things is in.  Old ways of thinking and behaving on this team are no longer acceptable.  The new coach comes from a winning tradition and he knows how to win and works hard to instill in his players the will to win.  The team still makes mistakes and doesn’t win every game.  But under this new coach the team begins to win more and more and within a few years they win a conference championship.

       This is somewhat akin to the first century Jewish Christians.  Before turning to Christ, and becoming Christians these Jews were under the Old Covenant system of righteousness attained by works of the law. Moses was their coach and a very good coach for the system that he was given to administer.  Unfortunately, that system led to death just like the system of the first coach in the football illustration led to a 0 and 14 record.  Since their was no possible way we could win under the old system administrated by coach Moses, God provided a new system with a new coach. Jesus is now our coach and through Jesus God has introduced a new system known as the New Covenant. 

       Like the new coach in the football illustration, our coach Christ Jesus has not totally abandoned all tenants of the old system but instead has included and magnified those tenants of the old system that are still applicable while adding a variety of new features to make the new system a guaranteed winner.

       The greatest feature of the new system is forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. A close second feature is the availability of the Holy Spirit which proceeds from that reconciliation and gives us the guarantee of eternal life.  But it doesn’t stop there. Our new coach has provided us with a play book that shows us how to live in harmony with the will of our coach and therefore fulfill our purpose on the team.  This play book is filled with one dynamic play after another.  Let’s look at a few of the plays.

       Romans 12:9-18: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

       Now what is quite different about being on the team with Christ as the coach as opposed to the football illustration is that we don’t have to try to make the team.  We have already made the team by simply having faith in the coach.  And as long as we make the effort to learn the plays and execute them to the best of our ability, this coach is going to work with us and even be forgiving when we really screw up and drop the ball.  Effort means everything to this coach and as long as we continue to put forth effort to learn and practice the plays, we are guaranteed a lifetime contract.  No need for free agency here.

       Another great thing about being on the team with Christ as coach is that this team has a unique spirit about it. The coach’s playbook teaches how to express this unique spirit.

       Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

       Being on the team with Christ as the coach will result in learning an entire new system of behavior, an entire new approach to life.

       Ephesians 4:22-32:  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

       Not only was the death and resurrection of Christ designed to provide reconciliation between God and man, it was also designed to provide reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles. The Old Covenant system stood as a barrier between Jews and Gentiles

       Ephesians 2:13-18: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

       The sacrifice of Christ negated the need for the Old Covenant system and replaced it with a system that provides for the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles under one single system which, as Scripture shows, includes all of humanity.  Unfortunately, much of humanity, both historically and presently, does not recognize the unity and reconciliation that is available through the Christ event.

       As we all know, we live in a much divided world.  Much of that division is along religious lines.  Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindu’s, Buddhists and a variety of other religious groups are all divided because of differing views as to what it means to have a relationship with God.  Then there are the many divisions within these religious groups.   Just as the Old Covenant stood as a barrier to reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, the various extant religious systems of this world stand as a barrier between races, cultures, nations and the one true God. 

       Some years ago John Lennon of the Beatles wrote a song which he entitled "Imagine."  This song became somewhat of a rallying cry for those seeking peace in the world.  In this song he identifies what he believes are barriers to peace and unity among the peoples of the world.

Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try  No hell below us. Above us only sky
                         Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do.  Nothing to kill or die for and no religion, too.

Imagine all the people living life in peace.

Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people. Sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live as one.
 

       It’s not hard to understand where John was coming from with this song.  John Lennon looked at the world and saw what we all see.  A world, both historically and presently, in disunity and conflict.  Countries fighting and killing each other over territorial claims, and religious differences.  People fighting and killing each other over possessions. A world where greed and the quest for power predominates over meeting the needs of others such as feeding the hungry.  A world where living in peace and experiencing a brotherhood of man appears only as pike dream. 

       To John Lennon the doing away with countries and religion would do away with conflict and the result would be people living in peace.  To Lennon doing away with private ownership would do away with greed and everyone would share everything with everyone else in common which would do away with things like hunger.  For John, attaining to a brotherhood of man and living in peace means the elimination of differences.  He saw eliminating different countries, different religions and different cultures as the pathway to peace and brotherhood.  John saw differences as the reason for the world’s woes.                           

        It is true that differences have created a climate for conflict.  But would the elimination of differences eliminate conflict and produce universal peace and the brotherhood of man as Lennon suggests?  What John failed to address in his song was the real pathway to peace.  The real pathway to people living life in peace and having a brotherhood of man is reconciliation with the one and only true God through the death and resurrection of Christ which in turn leads to reconciliation among people as well.

       Colossians 1:18-20: And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

       By recognizing and embracing the reconciling significance and ramifications of the sacrifice of Christ, we can still have different countries and cultures.  We can still have private possessions.  However, if the whole world recognized and embraced Christ and what He taught, there would be no conflict between nations and cultures.  Greed and envy of the possessions of others would cease.  People would automatically use their possessions to not only meet their own needs and desires but also the needs and desires of others.  As I have said many times before, the way to peace is manifest in the Scriptures.  It is the law of love expressed in all that we think, say and do.  Lennon sang of there being no religion.  I agree.  There would be no need for religion in a world totally committed to the way of God.  In NT time followers of Christ were simply referred to as followers of the way.   

       Our reconciliation with God through Christ provides us with the wherewithal to also be reconciled to each other, to experience true harmony among and with each other.  In referring to Christ, Paul wrote that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.  We can have that same fullness of God dwell in us.

       Ephesians 3:16-19: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

       To be reconciled to God is to experience the same fullness of God.  Having the fullness of God enables us to live the law of love.  Let us strive to express the fullness of God that flows from our being reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of our lord and savior Christ Jesus.